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Is the autopilot a driver-assistance system?

hgmichna

Member
Jun 17, 2020
285
217
Germany
To me it has always seemed like a misnomer. When I use autopilot, it is autopilot that drives the car. I am legally the fully responsible driver, but I do not actually drive. I supervise autopilot and occasionally assist it in tasks that it cannot (yet) do perfectly on its own. For example, I approve a lane change or a green traffic light, or I take over at a cross-roads to turn, only to re-enable autopilot afterwards. I assist the autopilot, not the other way around.

Beyond supervision and taking over in certain situations, the only task I can still do that has anything to do with driving is that I can change the speed. But just turning the scroll wheel does not mean to me that I am actually driving the car.

When autopilot is off, I threaten to leave the lane, and the safety system warns me and even steers gently back into the lane, that is true driver-assistance.

So it seems that regulators and the media often use a wrong and misleading or an overly legalistic expression to describe the Tesla autopilot.
 

diplomat33

Well-Known Member
Aug 3, 2017
7,444
8,610
Terre Haute, IN USA
To me it has always seemed like a misnomer. When I use autopilot, it is autopilot that drives the car. I am legally the fully responsible driver, but I do not actually drive. I supervise autopilot and occasionally assist it in tasks that it cannot (yet) do perfectly on its own. For example, I approve a lane change or a green traffic light, or I take over at a cross-roads to turn, only to re-enable autopilot afterwards. I assist the autopilot, not the other way around.

Beyond supervision and taking over in certain situations, the only task I can still do that has anything to do with driving is that I can change the speed. But just turning the scroll wheel does not mean to me that I am actually driving the car.

When autopilot is off, I threaten to leave the lane, and the safety system warns me and even steers gently back into the lane, that is true driver-assistance.

So it seems that regulators and the media often use a wrong and misleading or an overly legalistic expression to describe the Tesla autopilot.

That is a common misconception. But no, when AP is on, AP is not driving the car, you are still driving the car. AP is a driver assist because it is just doing steering and braking to assist you. AP is helping you drive the car by handling some of the steering and braking for you. It is not actually driving the car. That's because driving is more than just steering and braking, driving is also watching the road and making tactical decisions. AP is not making those tactical decisions. There are plenty of cases where you need to take over because AP can't handle the situation. As long as there are cases that you need to take over, then it is a driver assist.

Put differently, if you have to take over for tasks that AP can't do yet, then it is by definition a driver assist. The fact that you need to approve lane changes or confirm green lights, makes it a driver assist. A system is only autonomous or full self-driving, when it can handle ALL the tasks on it own without human intervention.

Another way to look at it: if AP were driving the car then you should be able to sleep in the back seat. If you can't sleep in the back seat then AP is not driving. And if AP is not driving then logically, it must be you who is still driving the car. If you are responsible for driving, then you are still driving.
 
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hgmichna

Member
Jun 17, 2020
285
217
Germany
Sure, I don't doubt that definitions can be bent any way you want. I know the official, legalese definitions. Just from a natural use of the word "assist" it looks different. The legal definition is not what I perceive or what pretty much anyone perceives.

Talk to an impartial person in the car and ask them what they see. They will surely tell you that the car is driving itself while you, legally the driver, just watch and only very occasionally interfere. And it's undoubtedly true, until you come up with a different definition that defies the normal use of the word.

This is all not very important, until you look out for the effect of the expression "assist" on uninformed car buyers. They may well believe that they will continuously steer and control the car while any "assistance" system somehow helps them, like preventing lane departure (a function that Tesla cars also have, outside of autopilot).

I find the word "autopilot" much more fitting. It doesn't have such unintuitive connotations. In an aeroplane it steers and controls the plane under pilot supervision, while the pilot does not have to use the controls. Instead the pilot changes the autopilot parameters to make the plane fly a certain route. That is surprisingly similar to what the Tesla autopilot is for the car.
 
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glide

Active Member
Jun 6, 2018
2,972
3,041
USA
To me it has always seemed like a misnomer. When I use autopilot, it is autopilot that drives the car. I am legally the fully responsible driver, but I do not actually drive. I supervise autopilot and occasionally assist it in tasks that it cannot (yet) do perfectly on its own. For example, I approve a lane change or a green traffic light, or I take over at a cross-roads to turn, only to re-enable autopilot afterwards. I assist the autopilot, not the other way around.

Beyond supervision and taking over in certain situations, the only task I can still do that has anything to do with driving is that I can change the speed. But just turning the scroll wheel does not mean to me that I am actually driving the car.

When autopilot is off, I threaten to leave the lane, and the safety system warns me and even steers gently back into the lane, that is true driver-assistance.

So it seems that regulators and the media often use a wrong and misleading or an overly legalistic expression to describe the Tesla autopilot.
Nope. This is full of wrong. You are always the driver.
 

TresLA

Member
Jul 15, 2018
53
44
L.A.
Sure, I don't doubt that definitions can be bent any way you want. I know the official, legalese definitions. Just from a natural use of the word "assist" it looks different. The legal definition is not what I perceive or what pretty much anyone perceives.

Talk to an impartial person in the car and ask them what they see. They will surely tell you that the car is driving itself while you, legally the driver, just watch and only very occasionally interfere. And it's undoubtedly true, until you come up with a different definition that defies the normal use of the word.

This is all not very important, until you look out for the effect of the expression "assist" on uninformed car buyers. They may well believe that they will continuously steer and control the car while any "assistance" system somehow helps them, like preventing lane departure (a function that Tesla cars also have, outside of autopilot).

I find the word "autopilot" much more fitting. It doesn't have such unintuitive connotations. In an aeroplane it steers and controls the plane under pilot supervision, while the pilot does not have to use the controls. Instead the pilot changes the autopilot parameters to make the plane fly a certain route. That is surprisingly similar to what the Tesla autopilot is for the car.

I feel similarly. I do understand that for legal reasons your definitions of terms can't fly, but what's legally safe doesn't communicate to the Autopilot-virgin public what's happening with Tesla's Autopilot either. Really, this is just another uncharted territory and so our previous understandings, categories, buckets, and definitions just don't perfectly fit. As with any uncharted territory, definitions will be made and tweaked as we continue discovering and learning (both as product creators and product consumers). SAE's 5 levels of autonomy was a great effort, but I'm betting we will sooner or later have to throw those out and change our paradigm of how automated driving is defined/delineated.

A short aside: it's akin to how much of the public now seems to think something along the lines of "website cookies are bad, so to protect privacy I don't want any cookies". When in fact, many websites they use won't work if they were to actually "block all cookies". Internet privacy, security, and technologies are still evolving and changing. And so will the public's understanding of the terms, definitions, and best practices.
 

martinwinlow

Member
Jun 18, 2012
360
-27
Isle of Colonsay, UK
To me it has always seemed like a misnomer. When I use autopilot, it is autopilot that drives the car ... Tesla autopilot.


For starters Tesla's Autopilot is not an 'autopilot' - note carefully the use of capitalisation of the
first letter of the word in each case. An aircraft autopilot, in the mind of the layperson, may 'fly the plane' but the pilot knows differently! The same is true of Autopilot, the name given by Tesla to its *driver assistance* system in its cars.

It sounds to me like you are getting very confused and I fear it will end badly for you if you do not understand the difference between 'driver-assistance' and 'self-driving' - not to mention that you sound like you are pretty much constantly breaking the law whenever you are behind the wheel of your Tesla. I'm hoping you drive in America and therefore we are most unlikely to meet!
 
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hgmichna

Member
Jun 17, 2020
285
217
Germany
For starters Tesla's Autopilot is not an 'autopilot' - note carefully the use of capitalisation of the first letter of the word in each case. An aircraft autopilot, in the mind of the layperson, may 'fly the plane' but the pilot knows differently! The same is true of Autopilot, the name given by Tesla to its *driver assistance* system in its cars.
The Tesla Autopilot and its relation to the driver is very similar to an aeroplane autopilot and its relation to the pilot. I know, I'm a pilot myself. In brief: an autopilot steers the vehicle under control and supervision of the driver or pilot.

It sounds to me like you are getting very confused and I fear it will end badly for you if you do not understand the difference between 'driver-assistance' and 'self-driving' - not to mention that you sound like you are pretty much constantly breaking the law whenever you are behind the wheel of your Tesla. I'm hoping you drive in America and therefore we are most unlikely to meet!

We might meet one day. I'm in Germany. But no need to worry. I understand exactly the roles and limitations of the Tesla autopilot and the driver. You apparently thought that I try to alter the way of driving. Not so, I most likely drive just like you do.

This discussion is meant to be about the term "driver-assistance system" in relation to ordinary language, not about how to operate a Tesla. To put it very simply, for any normal person, unimpeded by modern language redefinitions, driving a car means stepping on the accelerator, steering, and braking. If you doubt that, just ask around. You will find that I am saying it as it is.

And in my Tesla that is exactly what the autopilot does most of the time. I do something very different. I control the parameters of the autopilot, I may have to confirm some of its actions, and I carefully supervise the autopilot and take over when it threatens to make a mistake (quite rare these days). As I had already written above, any normal person watching me would describe this as follows:

The autopilot drives the car. The "driver" supervises and occasionally interferes.

Again, you can test this for yourself by inviting unspoiled passengers and asking them what they see. If you actually do the test, you have to explain that you do not actually steer. You only rest your hand on the steering wheel, because that is a safety requirement. Otherwise they might think that you are steering.
 
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Daniel in SD

Well-Known Member
Jan 25, 2018
6,356
9,028
San Diego
If I'm in a car with an automatic transmission does that mean I'm not driving? No, it means that there is an automation system in the car that shifts gears.
Autopilot will only be driving when it automates all driving tasks, which it does not currently do.
 
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hgmichna

Member
Jun 17, 2020
285
217
Germany
Autopilot will only be driving when it automates all driving tasks, which it does not currently do.

That's just one way to look at the meaning of the word. You redefine the word "driving" in a very narrow way.

Somebody else might say, the autopilot is doing 90% of the driving. This might be more in line with how most normal people use the word "driving". Practically everybody will understand the sentence.

Even if the autopilot does 99% of the driving, you would call it a driver-assist system, i.e. the human drives, the autopilot assists. How about level 3 or 4 automation, where the human can temporarily detach from the driving task? Would you say that during such a period of detachment the human is still driving while the autopilot is assisting? The human is driving while doing nothing?

I would say that definitions like drawing the line at 100.0% will not be followed in common language. Most people would misunderstand statements built on such a definition.
 

AllanO

Member
Nov 20, 2020
52
39
Denmark
To me, it is really simple:

If I can hand the responsibility for driving the car over to a system, that system is driving the car.

If I cannot hand over the responsibility of driving, but can only hand over the work of driving, then that system is not driving the car. It is only a driver assist system, which is assisting me in my driving.

I can't hand over the responsibility to Tesla's autopilot, so it is not driving. It is only assisting.
 

Daniel in SD

Well-Known Member
Jan 25, 2018
6,356
9,028
San Diego
That's just one way to look at the meaning of the word. You redefine the word "driving" in a very narrow way.

Somebody else might say, the autopilot is doing 90% of the driving. This might be more in line with how most normal people use the word "driving". Practically everybody will understand the sentence.

Even if the autopilot does 99% of the driving, you would call it a driver-assist system, i.e. the human drives, the autopilot assists. How about level 3 or 4 automation, where the human can temporarily detach from the driving task? Would you say that during such a period of detachment the human is still driving while the autopilot is assisting? The human is driving while doing nothing?

I would say that definitions like drawing the line at 100.0% will not be followed in common language. Most people would misunderstand statements built on such a definition.
No, when a Level 3-5 system is engaged the car is driving.
The common language definition of driver is the person responsible for the operation of the car. Autopilot is not responsible and therefore not the driver of the car.
 

Knightshade

Well-Known Member
Jul 31, 2017
11,890
16,404
NC
How about level 3 or 4 automation, where the human can temporarily detach from the driving task? Would you say that during such a period of detachment the human is still driving while the autopilot is assisting? The human is driving while doing nothing?

I would say that definitions like drawing the line at 100.0% will not be followed in common language. Most people would misunderstand statements built on such a definition.


It's actually pretty clear.

For L3 when the system is on, the car is driving 100%. The human isn't required to actively be paying attention at all- they could read a book, watch a movie, etc.... but they need to be available to be signaled to start paying attention in some relatively short period of time (say 30-60 seconds or something) and then be able to take over the driving task from the car if the car leaves its operational domain where it's able to drive on its own.

For L4 the car is driving 100%. A human is never required to be paying attention, or even be awake or present. If the car is about to leave the domain in which it can operate it's still capable on its own of pulling over/parking safely.
 

hgmichna

Member
Jun 17, 2020
285
217
Germany
It's actually pretty clear. …

Yes, it is pretty clear to most of us, to attorneys, to regulators. No doubt there. It is also legally correct and relevant.

My point is that many people not specifically educated in such stuff would use different language. When they see a computer accelerating, steering, and braking, while the official driver watches over the machine, not actively doing any of these three tasks, they would (falsely, from an official point of view) say that the machine is driving the car, while the human is supervising. That's just common language.

It is purely a language problem, a problem of semantics. But it has implications. When uninitiated car buyers read "driver-assistance system", they quite possibly do not understand that it is a system that accelerates, steers, and brakes on its own. Thus uninitiated people tend to underestimate the capabilities of "driver-assistance systems". They may need to be educated about this.

That's a reason why I like "autopilot". In common language it is much closer to what actually happens.
 

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